Friday, June 26, 2015

Pots and plants

Finally, the weeds are under control and I’m getting caught up on planting. I fully intended to plant fewer containers this year, but a quick count yesterday revealed over ninety. It sounds ridiculous, although it might not appear to be that many to a casual observer because the total includes window boxes, spare pots, and odd stuff lying about the yard. Still, they all have to be watched and watered. Obsessive compulsive? Not me. It’s all the fault of hybridisers forcing new plant varieties on me, plus there are old favourites that I always have to have.

The challenge is trying to have them get along with each other in the same pot. The old rule is one trailing annual, one mounding, and a spiky plant in the middle. Not for me. There are no rules in a garden as far as I’m concerned, and there’s no reason the plants have to be annuals. I’m quite happy to grow shrubs in pots or stick perennials in the mix. Many clematis, for instance, are recommended for patio pots.

If there’s a plant that’s caught my interest this year, it’s succulents. I’m using a couple of galvanized

tubs to hold my new collection. Most are varieties of Echeveria, Sempervivum, or Aeonium. They’re often confused because varieties of each can all resemble the more familiar hens and chicks (Sempervivum), but it’s important to note that Echeveria and Aeonium are not hardy. They can, however, be over wintered as houseplants. in our climate (zone 5)

Hybridization has produced a number of fascinating forms that mix and match beautifully. The leaves form rosettes that are ruffled or wrinkled, in contrasting shades of pink, grey, and purple. I have my groups planted in a moderately fertile, loose, almost sandy soil. To prevent the lower leaves from rotting, I’ve mulched the surface of the soil with fine gravel to keep it dry. Grow in full sun for best results.

I find it helps a lot to know the conditions in which plants originated. Sometimes just the country will give a general idea. Many Echeveria are native to Mexico, so right away it’s hot food, siestas and sandy beaches that come to mind — okay, hot and dry. Similarly, Aeonium hale mainly from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, another vacation destination with Spanish overtones — sounds sun, sand, and sangria to me. Sempervivum, meanwhile, are found in southern Europe, North Africa, and the near east. What all these plants have in common, besides belonging to the Crassulaceae family, is the ability to store water in their leaves. This allows them to survive dry periods, but they do need to be watered well when the soil dries out.

Speaking of soil drying out, and even though there hasn’t been much chance of that lately, it’s important to remember to mulch. If there’s a patch of soil visible anywhere in my garden or in a container, it either gets a plant stuck into it or it gets mulched. Mulching helps soil retain moisture and suppresses weeds. Considering the cost of water saved, it doesn’t make sense not to mulch. In addition, organic mulch will break down and feed the soil — a horticultural win-win. It even comes in bright red for those who have a hankering for that red Georgia clay look.

Mulch is readily available in bags from the grocery store if you have a small area or in huge, more economical bulk bags for larger areas. I have one waiting in the driveway that should take care of the front yard — and maybe my lower back. 

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